Surrounded by members of Congress wearing green ribbons handed out by Newtown elementary school students in memory of those killed at Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama made a forceful push for gun control in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Obama saved his call for tightened gun regulation — a cornerstone of his second-term legislative agenda — for the end of his annual address to a joint session of Congress. He did not attempt to persuade members of Congress and the American public to support specific aspects of the proposals introduced by his administration last month, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, but instead sought to convince those listening that a vote on those proposals is the most important step forward.
“The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote,” Obama said. “The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”
Although Obama’s call for a vote on gun legislation drew a standing ovation from nearly everyone in the audience, supporters of his proposals intended to curb gun violence were divided in their opinions of the speech, with some suggesting that he ought to have outlined his ideas in greater detail
Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent ’13, who was in the Aurora, Colo. theater where a gunman killed 12 and injured 58 last summer, said he thinks Obama should have devoted more time to gun control and placed it earlier in the speech, before “people tuned out.” He added that he believes Obama should have emphasized specific legislative goals rather than simply calling for a vote.
“I was appalled,” Rodriguez-Torrent said. “I wanted my president to stand up and say nobody should vote no on this very common, very simple proposal.”
Others, however, disagreed with Rodriguez-Torrent’s sentiment, saying that the speech effectively made the case for tightened firearm controls.
“I think it was very powerful that he simply called for a vote,” said Lisa Romano, a Newtown resident who supports stricter gun control and has also run for state representative. “Everyone knows where the president stands. Unless there’s a vote we won’t know where all of the members of Congress stand. And we need to know.”
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who has been a vocal advocate for increased gun regulation in the wake of the Newtown shooting, released a statement shortly after the speech echoing Romano’s views, saying that the speech challenged Congress to “get moving” to pass gun legislation.
But Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered the Republican response, largely avoided delving into the issue, not using the word “gun” once in his address, which was also broadcast nationally.
Austin Schaefer ’15, vice chairman of the Yale College Republicans, said that while he disagrees with Obama on some of his more controversial proposals, such as banning assault weapons, the address presented ideas that were generally less contentious.
“His ideas about increasing the stringency of background checks and making sure there are ways to prevent people from reselling guns to criminals are all good ideas,” Schaefer said. “He didn’t touch on the politically touchy issues.”
Numerous survivors of gun violence were present in the chamber of the House of Representatives, where President Obama delivered the address, including a first-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary. Also sitting alongside Michelle Obama were the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15 year-old shot in Chicago only days after performing at January’s presidential inauguration.
In the weeks leading up to the speech, Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin, who at 16 became a quadriplegic after a gun accident, encouraged members of Congress to give their guest tickets to the address to survivors of gun violence. At least 35 Democrats did so.